9 September 2021

Special Guest Interview with Philip Yorke, Author of Redemption (The Hacker Chronicles, Book 2)


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Saturday, the second day of July, in the year of our Lord, 1644, will be a day long remembered by the men and women committed to ending the reign of a tyrannical King. For on this day, the forces of Charles the First were crushed on the bloody fields of Marston Moor.

I'm pleased to welcome author Philip Yorke to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

Redemption is the second novel of the five-part Hacker Chronicle series, set during the period 1644-45, in the midst of the first brutal British Civil War.

The central character is Francis Hacker, who rose to be the foremost commander of horse in the New Model Army. He was also a friend and loyal ally of Oliver Cromwell.

The book’s central plot focuses on a key Parliamentarian who betrays the cause he serves – and Francis’s role in bringing him to heel. But it also tells the story of Francis’s relentless pursuit of Gustav Holck, a Bohemian mercenary and key supporter of Prince Rupert and King Charles the First, who butchered two of Francis’s children in cold blood in the first book of the series (Rebellion).

Punctuating the two twisting plots are regular bursts of action as the Parliamentarian army gradually starts to gain the ascendency against the Royalists. 

Much of what is written in the book is historically accurate, and all of my writing follows a strict historical timeline. Like all historical fiction novels, some of the content is pure invention. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

I like to prepare an outline, which maps out all the key, historical events of the time my book covers. Usually this takes up to three months to complete. In addition, I like to have biographies of the key characters from history who will feature in my writing, and I will often visit some of the towns and areas I will be writing about so I can accurately describe local landmarks. 

When I conduct research, I am always drawn to the online vaults of the BCW Project's website. This is a real goldmine for anyone writing about the events of seventeenth-century Britain.

Once my preparatory work is completed, I create a chapter structure, including as much detail and plot as I can muster. This gives me the easy-to-use reference point I need for my imagination to take over. And then I start to write.

Penning the words is a very different process to creating the structure; some days I find myself only able to write a thousand words, or so, while on others, I can craft a 6,000-word chapter relatively effortlessly. My mood is a big factor in this, so I try to write first thing in the morning, when I have the most energy. A nice cup of fresh coffee provides much-needed stimulus after a couple of hours.

Once a chapter has been completed, I pass it down the line to a couple of people who check it for accuracy and sense. If they say it works, then I move on to the next installment. If they raise some questions, I deal with them. Only when they are happy do I progress.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

We have all been aspiring at some point in our writing journey, so we know what it feels like to be starting out.

Many years ago, two people gave me the best possible advice when I worked on Fleet Street.

The first, an experienced editor, encouraged me to be meticulous in my planning and research. These two disciplines, he contended, are the backbones of all writing. I agree, and that’s why I spend as long as I can preparing things.

Another former colleague encouraged me not to seek the endorsement of my peers, as their views can often be a distraction and hindrance rather than an enabler. He, too, was right. I have spoken to many authors whose stories have been watered down or ruined by third parties. So, stick to your guns and write the story that you want to read. That’s what I try to do.

Whenever I can I encourage writers to simply ‘have a go’ and pour their heart and soul into the project. 

Many people I speak to think all books have to start with the best-ever introductory paragraphs. I disagree. This is a near impossibility for the vast majority of us, so don’t even try to go there. My advice is ‘get writing – and keep writing’. Words can be changed, rewritten and dropped completely at varying stages of the project. But what is sacrosanct (and very difficult to change when you have penned 50,000 words) is the quality and plausibility of the plot – and the credibility of the characters. So, work on these and forget a lot of the other stuff. 

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

Knowledge in this important regard is key – as is preparation and rigour.

Getting advance copies of your book reviewed by third parties is still a key part of the publishing and distribution process. In this regard, newspapers and magazines can be huge influencers – if you sell-in your book in the right kind of way (i.e. confidently).

Social media is also a good way to get would-be readers excited, particularly if you are prepared to offer your eBooks free for a limited period (up to five days), so readers can sample your writing without the need of parting with their hard-earned cash.

Alas, no matter who you link yourself to, you will need to spend some cash on marketing your book – if you want it to be sampled by the largest possible audience. The trick here is to identify which platforms provide value for money and which ones burn your cash and give zilch in return (and many do this).

Once you have done this, identify a budget you are happy spending (and prepare yourself for little return in the short-term), prepare vibrant and credible marketing materials (including endorsements) and then press the button. 

This is when the hard work really starts, because from this moment on, you are using real information to refine your techniques and increase your audience. 

To aid me, I joined the Historical Novel Society, which specialises in historical fiction writing. It costs £40 annually – yet gives me access to specialists who can help with marketing, manuscript testing, and a lot, lot more. 

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

I had been looking into the life of Francis Hacker, and his many family associations, when I was told he was first cousin to Oliver Cromwell.

Unfortunately, I was unable to establish this as ‘fact’ before my first novel in the series (Rebellion) was published at the end of 2019. Six months later, several of Francis’s descendants, who now reside in the US, get in touch with me – and all of them told me of this link. One, a lawyer, had even conducted his own research and pulled together an extensive family tree. This showed a family clear link between Francis and Cromwell, and critically gave me the path to follow to establish the bona fides of the claims.

As I answer this question, I am waiting for some answers to a letter I sent to the National Civil War Museum and the National Archives, which (hopefully) will confirm the veracity of this claim.

I won’t be able to use it in the remainder of the series, but it is a wonderful tidbit to have uncovered.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

That’s easy: the scene describing the demise of one of the key characters. I want name character in question (just in case someone reads the book), but it was a leading figure who I had grown very attached to while writing Rebellion and Redemption.

He was an integral figure in both stories – yet it was important he died in a certain way, thereby emphasising the brutality of the period, and giving Francis the desire to avenge the slaying, which is something that runs throughout Redemption and is integral to his character.

At times, I felt like I was living and breathing the scenes. I only hope the words are fitting for the occasion.

What are you planning to write next?

I am scheduled to write Regicide, the third book in the Hacker Chronicles series. This is a story about the death of King Charles – and the role played by Francis Hacker in thwarting repeated attempts by Royalist supporters to assassinate Cromwell and bring about the downfall of the Parliamentarian regime.

The book is scheduled to be published in January 2022, to coincide with the anniversary of the execution of Charles the First.

Philip Yorke

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About the Author

Philip Yorke is an award-winning former Fleet Street journalist who has a special interest in history. His Hacker Chronicles series, to be told in five fast-paced historical fiction novels, tells the story of Parliamentarian soldier, Francis Hacker. Philip is married, and he and his wife have five children. He enjoys relaxing to classical music, reading the works of Nigel Tranter, Bernard Cornwell, Robyn Young and CJ Sansom, and supporting Hull City FC and Leicester Tigers RFC. He lives in Leicestershire, England. Find out more at Philip's website https://www.philipyorke.org/ and find him on Facebook and Twitter @yorkeauthor

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